Learn how to make Amanda Hesser's Purple Plum Torte from her new cookbook: "The Essential NYT Cookbook."
Purple Plum Torte
This is both the most often published and the most requested recipe in the Times archives. By my count, Marian Burros (who was given the recipe by Lois Levine, with whom Burros wrote Elegant but Easy) ran the recipe in the paper twelve times. And when I asked readers for recipe suggestions for this book, 265 people raved about the torte. The torte happily lives up to its billing: crusty and light, with deep wells of slackened, sugar-glazed plums.
I’ve thought a lot about why this torte struck such a chord with people: the answer, I think, is that it’s a nearly perfect recipe. There are only eight ingredients, all of which, except for the plums, you probably already have in your kitchen. There are just four steps, most of which are one sentence long. You need no special equipment, just a bowl, a wooden spoon, and a pan. The batter is like pancake batter, which most everyone is comfortable making. And baked plums are sweet and tart, making the flavor more complex and memorable than a hard-hitting sweet dessert.
It also freezes well.
“A friend who loved the tortes said that in exchange for two, she would let me store as many as I wanted in her freezer,” Burros wrote one year when she ran the recipe. “A week later, she went on vacation for two weeks and her mother stayed with her children. When she returned, my friend called and asked, ‘How many of those tortes did you leave in my freezer?’
“ ‘Twenty-four, but two of those were for you.’
“There was a long pause. ‘Well, I guess my mother either ate twelve of them or gave them away.’ ”
In later versions of the recipe, Burros cut back the sugar to 3⁄4 cup—feel free to if you like—and added variations, such as substituting blueberries or apples and cranberries for the plums (I haven’t tried either, but Burros was a fan). She jumped the shark, in my view, though, when she created low-fat variations with mashed bananas and applesauce. While I respect her enthusiasm for innovation, this is one recipe that needs no improvement.
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
Large pinch of salt
1 cup sugar, plus 1 tablespoon, or more or less,
depending on the tartness of the plums
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
2 large eggs
12 purple plums, halved and pitted
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice, or more or less,
depending on the tartness of the plums
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Sift the flour with the baking powder and salt.
2. Cream 1 cup sugar and the butter in a large bowl with a hand mixer (or in a mixer) until light in color. Add the dry ingredients and then the eggs.
3. Spoon the batter into an ungreased 9-inch springform pan. Cover the top of the batter with the plum halves, skin side up. Sprinkle with the remaining tablespoon of sugar and the lemon juice, adjusting to the tartness of the fruit. Sprinkle with the cinnamon.
4. Bake until the cake is golden and the plums are bubbly, 45 to 50 minutes. Cool on a rack, then unmold.
I like this best with oval Italian plums, available in early fall.
“Not only is it delicious, it is also simple. It has served me as an impromptu dessert on numerous occasions (even in the winter, one almost always has apples and frozen cranberries in the house). I have served it with ice cream, sorbet, whipped cream, yogurt, sour cream, crème fraîche, Barbados Cream (à la Nigella), or crème anglaise—depending on the particular torte, my mood, and what I have on hand. And yes, I did laminate it!” [Presumably, the recipe, not the cake.]
Donna L. Boies, Washington, D.C., letter
“I make a dozen every fall and store in the freezer just as she recommends. I also sometimes instead use peaches, mango, blueberries. I add 1⁄2 tsp. of vanilla and the grated rind of 1 small lemon to the dough.”
Frances Gordon, Atlantis, FL, letter
“In August and September of each year I make at least 2 cakes a week. They freeze very well and cheer me up during the dark winter months.”
Dagmar Greve, New York, NY, letter
“The only change I have made over the years is to add a teaspoon of almond extract. The combination of the almond flavoring with the purple plums is ethereal.”
Nancy Denburg, e-mail
September 21, 1983: “Food Notes,” by Marian Burros.
Reprinted from THE ESSENTIAL NEW YORK TIMES COOKBOOK by Amanda Hesser. Compilation copyright (c) 2010 by The New York Times Company and Amanda Hesser. Recipes and reprinted text copyright (c) 2010 by The New York Times Company. Used with permission of the publisher, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.